Are you Making this Metering Mistake? You Could be a ‘Meterholic’!
Today I am tackling a metering issue that so many of you are having! If you are finding the whole metering the light process tedious and repetitive and are on the verge of giving up manual mode (or maybe you already have) then this episode is for you!
Before we get into today’s show I just wanted to mention what a great week we have had over in the facebook community. The theme this past week has been lego and I can’t tell you imaginative, funny and creative these images have been! They have been so good in fact I have decided to use them throughout today’s show notes – enjoy!
If you just heard the words ‘metering the light’ and have no idea what that means then don’t despair – I talk about this and teach you how to do it in Episodes 7 and 8 so pop back and have a listen if you would like to understand this a bit more. Alternatively, sign up for my FREE 10 day crash course at www.autotomanual.com – it’s easier than you think!
Remember, metering the light is just measuring. You are measuring the reflected light from your scene so that you can expose your image correctly.
This metering issue comes up time and time again both with those who have been on my workshop and those who have been listening to the podcast. For that very reason it had to get its very own podcast episode.
The best way to introduce the issue is to read out Rebecca’s email. Rebecca emailed me just over a week ago after completing the Auto to Manual in 10 Days crash course. She wrote;
I have completed your 10 day email course and I really enjoyed it so first of all I wanted to say a big thank you. I have been trying to get into photography ever since I got my Canon Rebel two years ago but it is not until now that the whole manual mode thing is clicking into place. I’m finally starting to ‘get it’!
I do have a question though. Or maybe it’s more like a problem.
I think I am metering the light correctly. I understand how to do it and I am using all the settings you recommend. The thing is whenever I am taking photographs I just seem to spend half that time metering the light and I am missing shots all the time. My daughter is usually the subject of my photographs and she gets so fed up waiting on me every time I am metering that I end up just capturing her grumpy face or her back as she runs away from me! I have to admit to switching back to Auto sometimes just so I can take a shot quickly.
Do you have any advice or do I just have to keep practicing?”
Rebecca I hope you don’t mind me using your email and what I want to say first is that you are not alone with this issue. I work with so many beginners and this comes up all the time. So much so that I now make a point of mentioning it during my workshops.
The part of your email I want to focus on is this part;
“…I just seem to spend half that time metering the light and I am missing shots all the time.”
Here’s the thing…
Stop metering all the time.
You are what I like to call, a ‘meterholic’. I used to suffer from this condition myself so I know ALL ABOUT IT Rebecca!
Now I am not going to pick on Rebecca here. I am going to talk to all of you. Let me set the scene. Let’s say you are a parent taking some photographs of the kids. You have taken them to a great location and you have found some great light to place them in.
Now if you are wondering how on earth you know whether you have found great light or not then stay tuned to the podcast because I have a whole series of episodes coming up on that subject…
So you have found your location, you have found your light and now you are ready to take some photographs.
Now if you are going to be photographing kids – don’t ask them to stand still in front of your camera whilst you fiddle about with your settings for half an hour. They WILL get bored! There are lots of things you could do before you need to meter the light from their faces. So what could you do without them having to be there? Let’s go through all the things I have taught you so far;
- You check your focus settings (remember, for beginners, I recommend just leaving them set to AF-C & Dynamic for Nikon users and AI Servo & Manual point selection for Canon users)
- You select your white balance according to the weather
- You select your aperture based on the depth of field you want or need
- You select your ISO (you will probably start at ISO 100 if you are outside)
All of this can be done on the way or whilst the kids play and run around. If you haven’t a clue what I was just talking about then that’s another reason to sign up for my completely free 10 day crash course. It should demystify it all for you.
If you have another adult with you then use their face to meter the light. I know there are variations in skin tone but remember not to get too caught up in perfection. You can tweak your exposure so easily and quickly afterwards.
If you don’t have another adult with you then set something up for the kids to do in the place that you have chosen to take these photographs in. For example put a picnic rug down and give them a snack or some toys to play with whilst you sit nearby and meter the light from one of their faces. So let’s remind ourselves of that process (and again, if you are unsure of anything below then the crash course will really help you!)
- You have selected your aperture and your ISO so now you have to meter the light to find the shutter speed that you need
- Nikon users – you always meter using your focus point (wherever it may be in your frame)
- Canon users – you always meter using the centre of your frame (it doesn’t matter whether your focus point is there or not)
- You adjust your shutter speed until that light meter gives you a zero reading
- You check that the shutter speed is fast enough for your needs – if not then you increase your ISO until you get a satisfactory shutter speed
- You take a test shot to check the exposure – is the image too dark, too bright or just right?
- If it’s too dark then you need more light, so you either slow down the shutter speed or if you don’t want your shutter speed to be slower, you simply increase the ISO
- If it’s too bright then you need less light, so you either speed up the shutter speed or, if your ISO is not already at it’s lowest setting, then you could decrease your ISO
- You keep taking test shots until you are happy with your exposure and you MUST remember to make sure you are happy with your shutter speed
Now that all sounds like a hassle but in reality it takes MUCH less time for you to do it all than for me to say it all.
But guys, after you have gone through that process – that’s it! You have your exposure! You are ready to take photographs in that location and in that light.
YOU DON’T NEED TO METER AGAIN UNLESS THE LIGHT CHANGES!
You are now free to just take photographs. You are free to concentrate completely on composing your images well and nailing your focus. How awesome is that? You just need to click, click, click and you know that your exposure is going to be good.
Think about it. Why would you meter again?
Let me tell you what happens when you are a meterholic. You are addicted to your light meter reading zero. You are obsessed with your light meter being at zero all the time. If it’s not at zero then you frantically try to get it to zero. Does this sound familiar to some of you?
This will drive you crazy. You simply will not want to take any photographs if you are going through this process constantly. How demoralising!
Think about this. Let’s say the kids have pale skin but they are wearing dark clothing. So you meter from their pale skin and you get the perfect exposure for them. You take your test shot and you are happy. Then you start to take your ‘proper’ photographs and as you do so your metering point moves to their dark clothing. All of a sudden your light meter is going to give you a negative reading. It’s going to say, ‘Hey I need more light here – I can’t expose this with these settings!’
A meterholic, in this situation, will say, ‘Yes Sir Mr Light Meter!’ and will promptly go and adjust their exposure settings until the meter reads zero. But what will happen if you meter the light from those dark clothes? The faces will be way overexposed! And that’s a disaster in people photography.
The truth is your light meter will sometimes give you a hundred different readings in the space of a couple of minutes of shooting.
Of course it will. There are a hundred different colours and textures in your scene – all reflecting different amounts of light.
Once you have found your perfect exposure for this particular light, who cares what your meter says after that? That’s why you went through the process of metering the light in the first place. Ignore it after that!
And I know what you are thinking now – I do!
What if the light does change?
Well then of course your exposure settings will have to change too. If the sun suddenly goes behind a cloud, yes you will need to slow down your shutter speed or increase your ISO.
If you move from the open air to the shade you will have to do the same thing.
If the sun suddenly comes out from behind the clouds you will have to speed up your shutter speed or decrease your ISO.
And let me tell you something about that. The more you take photographs the more that will become so quick and easy for you. You will notice a light change immediately and you will instinctively slow down or speed up your shutter.
But you only have to do it ONCE every time the light changes. Only once and then leave it.
Ok so I know what you are thinking now.
But Julie, what if the light is changing ALL THE TIME???
Yes I feel your pain. Situations like this are a bit of a nightmare. Some examples might be;
Outdoors when the weather is sunny with clouds and the clouds are moving fast. So the sun is coming out fully, then moving behind a light fluffy cloud, then out again, then moving behind a thicker white cloud then behind a darker, grey cloud. (Take a moment to sympathise with wedding photographers on days like this).
Indoors with people moving all over the room. So sometimes they are right beside a window and other times they are in the far corner with hardly any window light reaching them at all.
In full manual mode, these situations are exposure nightmares.
I am in manual mode pretty much 90% of the time. It’s not often that I have a day when the light is changing so drastically and so quickly that I can’t cope with it and when I take photographs indoors I make sure I set up the shots in lovely window light. If someone moves to a dark corner I just won’t be taking that picture. Not with my DSLR anyway. If it’s just a snapshot to record a memory (maybe the kids are doing something cute or funny) then I will grab my phone and record it with that. A snapshot is a snapshot!
However I totally appreciate that there are situations when you need to be taking photographs quickly in incredibly changeable light. Weddings for example. A wedding photographer has to take photographs all day, quickly and in every light scenario imaginable.
When I find myself in light which is changing ALL THE TIME and I have to work quickly – I switch to a semi-automatic shooting mode. My choice would be Aperture Priority. And more on THAT in the next episode . . .
I hope you will join me!